What sort of editor should you be?

If you ask me to work as editor on an article, magazine or book, what should you expect? A vague tidy of grammar and punctuation or a full-blown rewrite?

I’ve had both as a writer. An old news editor of mine took to rewriting every story I wrote. He’d print it out, hand it to me and say “see”? It may have been intended as training; it came out as belittling. He’s no longer in the business, I’m happy to say.

My own style is somewhat different. I’ve been writing full-time for 28 years so yes, there’s a good chance I could rephrase something a new person brings to me and make it a little more elegant. One thing would be missing, though.

People have seen my version of loads of things before. But they haven’t seen that new writer’s take. Or yours, if you’re thinking of hiring a ghost writer or getting someone to tidy your copy up.

The editor will watch house style and grammar

That said, there are still a few things that should be taken as read. Put bad grammar in and a good editor will correct it (and I mean genuinely bad grammar rather than following a few rules slavishly, as I explain in this post). Fail to adhere to house style and there will be tweaks. This won’t be big stuff, it will be changing “per cent” to “%” in Economist style, or the other way round for Guardian style.

If you’re writing an opinion piece to publicise your company there will be other stuff too. When I started as a freelance and ghosted several such pieces for clients, one of my favourite editors had a strict rule; any more than three mentions of the company name and she’d start zapping them.

Unlike the guy I mentioned earlier, she was keen to hear the voice of the writer and didn’t recast everything as if she’d written it herself.

If you’re writing for magazines, newspapers and other people’s websites, you might find either extreme or somewhere in between when your work is edited. If you’re commissioning an editor for your own work, to beat it into shape, it can be worth considering the above and making sure you know what sort of edit you need – and putting it into the brief.

Do you need help with editing or with coaching on your business writing? I can help – drop me an email by clicking here and we’ll talk.

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